The idea of personal freedom is closely related to the belief that
you can travel where you choose without being restrained by someone
else. When someone else restrains you or prevents you from moving, this
is punishable as a crime, known as false imprisonment. The crime of
false imprisonment, sometimes called criminal restraint or criminal
confinement, occurs when one person unlawfully restrains someone else
without the victim's consent.
The elements of false imprisonment are below.
- Intentional imprisonment. To
be convicted of false imprisonment a person must intentionally limit or
restrict someone else's personal freedom against the victim's consent.
The imprisonment can occur whenever the victim is either physically
restrained, but physical restraint is not always necessary. You can, for
example, commit false imprisonment if you threaten the victim with
violence if he or she tries to leave. You can also commit false
imprisonment if you restrain someone else by using coercion or
- Non-consensual. False
imprisonment can only occur if the victim does not consent to the
restraint. While adults can grant consent by voluntarily remaining in
the situation, the same does not apply to children or those who are
legally incapacitated, such as adults with cognitive disabilities. A
child or incapacitated adult does not have the legal ability to grant
consent. In the situation where a legally incapacitated person is
restrained, it's the consent of the legally incapacitated person's
parent or guardian that is important.
- Lawful justification.
In some situations, restraining another person is not false
imprisonment even if the restrained person does not consent. For
example, many states have laws that allow merchants or shopkeepers to
restrain someone suspected of stealing property from the store. However,
shopkeepers can not simply restrain anyone. The retailer must have some
reason to believe the person has stolen, or is about to steal
- Use or threats of force. To
be convicted of false imprisonment there does not have to be any proof
that force or the threat of force was ever used. However, if someone
uses force or threatens force as a means to restrain the victim, this
often leads to more serious charges or enhanced penalties.
There is no specific amount of time required with false imprisonment
charges. False imprisonment can occur if someone is restrained for a
very brief amount of time, and there is no minimum amount of time that
must be met. However, if the restraint lasts for a long time, typically
12 hours or more, this may also lead to more serious charges or increase
the potential penalties.
- False imprisonment and kidnapping.
False imprisonment or unlawful restraint crimes are closely related to
kidnapping. Both crimes involve the unlawful restraint of someone else
using force or the threat of force. Kidnapping also requires prosecutors
to show an additional element is present. In some states, the
additional element can be as little as moving the victim from one place
to another, even if the distance is a very short one. In other states
the person who is subjecting another to restraint must do so with the
intent to hold the victim for ransom, use the victim as a hostage or a
shield, to commit another crime, to interfere with political or
government functions, or to terrorize or hurt the victim or another
- Civil false imprisonment. If
you commit an act of false imprisonment you can both be charged with a
crime and be sued by the victim in civil court. A civil lawsuit is very
different than a criminal charge. When a crime occurs, it is up to a
prosecutor to charge the suspect in a criminal court. If you are
convicted of a crime you face penalties imposed by the state, such as
jail or fines. In a civil lawsuit, the restrained person can sue you in a
civil court and ask a court to award damages. If you lose in civil
court lawsuit you typically have to pay damages to the victim, but you
cannot be sentenced to jail or be ordered to pay a fine.
False Imprisonment Penalties
conviction for false imprisonment can lead to substantial penalties.
Depending on the state and the circumstances of the case, false
imprisonment can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.
Felony offenses are the more serious of the two and have stiffer
penalties associated with them.
- Jail. If
you are convicted of false imprisonment you can face a lengthy jail or
prison sentence. Misdemeanor convictions can lead to up to a year in
jail, while felony convictions are much more serious, especially if
threats of violence were involved or the person restrained was a child.
Felony convictions can result in 20 years in prison or more.
- Fines. False
imprisonment can also be punished with a fine in addition to jail or
prison time. Misdemeanor fines usually do not exceed about $1,000, while
felony fines can be significant, exceeding $10,000 or more.
- Probation. Probation
sentences are also possible if you are convicted of false imprisonment.
Probation sentences typically last at least 12 months, but two or three
year sentences are common. When ordered to serve probation you must
comply with specific conditions or risk being sent to jail, paying
additional fines, or other penalties. Probation conditions often include
meeting regularly with a probation officer, not leaving the state
without the probation officer's permission, paying all required criminal
fines and court costs, and not committing any more crimes.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
conviction for false imprisonment is a very serious matter and one that
requires the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. False
imprisonment charges can significantly harm your life even if you are
never convicted. Because of the serious nature of these crimes and the
possibility that you could spend a substantial time in jail, you should
never make any decisions about your false imprisonment charges until you
speak to a criminal defense lawyer in your area. A local lawyer who has
experience dealing with the local criminal courts, prosecutors, judges,
and who knows the intricacies of the law is the only person qualified
to give you advice about your case.